Chile: Michel Bachelet, first woman to be elected President of Chile

The election of Michel Bachelet as the first woman to be elected President of Chile has aroused big interest around the world

Translated by Kevin Simpson, London

Michel Bachelet, first woman to be elected President of Chile

The newly elected President was an activist of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista – PS) from an early age. Bachelet was the daughter of a left wing Chilean Air force general who died in prison as a result of torture following the military coup in 1973. Michel herself, and her mother, were tortured and had to flee into exile. As a single mother, Bachelet had to bring up her children single handedly, a situation which she shares with at least 30% of Chilean households. Her background enabled her to gain political capital as was shown by the numerous celebrations by party activists after her election. Without doubt there are enormous expectations in the next government. Indeed many people are hopeful that under this fourth Concertación government [Coalition of Parties for Democracy – made up of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), Party for Democracy (PPD), Social Democrat Radical Party (PRSD) and the Socialist Party (PS)] things will begin to change in a more progressive direction.

But there is another part of Bachelet’s political biography which shows the direction her government will take will be one of yet another neo-liberal Concertación government. Michel Bachelet previously held the posts of Ministry of Defence and of Health. But she singularly failed to put forward new or distinct policies when she held these ministries and neither did she express any differences with the neo-liberal policies of the Ricardo Largos [the previous President and Socialist Party leader]. With the increasing move to the right by the Socialist Party, Michel Bachelet was not one of those increasingly rare political leaders who actually voice criticism of what is done by their parties in government.

A paradox of all the Concertación governments is that they have always raised the banner of social equality whilst at the same time the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few has continued to increase. All the Concertación governments have favoured big business and the oligarchs who have taken control of all the major sectors of the economy from mining and the banks to retail trade. The multinationals have increasingly deepened their penetration of the Chilean economy. As a result, Chile has a worse distribution of wealth than Ethiopia these days and in Latin America is only surpassed by Brazil. In Chile, 20% of the population receive 60% of the wealth. The neo-liberal model of capitalist accumulation implemented under the Pinochet military dictatorship, and continued under the Concertación governments has profoundly polarised wealth. It should be emphasised that nothing in Bachelet’s programme hints at putting into question this social and economic model. Quite the contrary, Bachelet has gone out of her way to make clear to the Chilean and international bosses that the same rules of the "game" will be maintained as before.

Business leaders have shown that the election of Bachelet’s economic team from amongst that section of the Concertación referred to as "liberals", has contributed to increased confidence. The real test of Bachelet’s future direction is that the international markets, like Wall Street, have remained indifferent to the outcome of last Sunday’s election.

Undoubtedly in the short term developments will lead to people either feeling disappointed, rebellious or frustrated. The elections have shown that the main problem which confronts the working class is the lack of their own political representation. All the parties which previously portrayed themselves as being for the "workers and poor masses" have been emptied of activists whilst the Socialist Party has converted itself into a machine of "notables" who have enriched themselves either through being directors of the old state industries which are now privatised or by being part of the state machine. These parties have voluntarily abandoned rank and file organisation and any resemblance of independent party activity, whilst the Communist Party (Partido Comunista – PC) for its part has been reduced to the remnants of a mass party with most of the masses outside it. The call made by the PC leadership to support Bachelet in the second round of the elections showed definitively to many of its own activists that the party really does not have the political will to fight against capitalism. In fact for the first time in decades, the electoral turn by the PC leaders has led to a crisis within the party’s left wing particularly amongst the youth wing.

To avoid the disappointment with the hopes Bachelet’s election has seen amongst wide sections of the workers being turned into frustration, apathy and political demoralisation amongst workers and young people, it is necessary to urgently begin the task of building a new workers’ party. Such an organisation could put forward a democratic and socialist programme independent of the coalitions which serve the ruling class, the right wing Alliance and the Concertación.

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January 2006